Chef Vikas Khanna is one of the Indian chefs who've made it big in the Big Apple. He's got a Michelin star to his name, his restaurant Junoon in New York's Madison Square Park was certified with the coveted star in 2011. He's also listed as one of the sexiest man alive by People Magazine.
Right now, the 40-year-old chef has just been picked as the Goodwill Ambassador of Annamrita, ISKCON Food Relief Foundation's Midday Meal program. With his life revolving around food, he's also filmed a few documentaries and authored books too.
We got the chef to tell us about himself. Below are edited excerpts:
What's your favourite comfort food?
Dal. For 11 years I've just eaten dal every night.
What's your signature dish?
I change the menu very often. But the guys back at the restaurant's pastry section say the paan desserts (paan cake, kulfi, truffle cake) I make are the best. In spite of the recipe being the same for everyone. Like in India, after a meal, another social gathering is usually a drive to the paan shop. The Americans don't know this, but somehow they feel pretty relaxed after a paan dessert too.
If you weren't a chef, you'd be…
A farmer. By 2020, I will have taken up farming as a full time profession.
What places in the world have influenced your cooking the most?
Bhutan has influenced me over the last seven years. Tibet too has. More than the dishes and ingredients, I have been influenced by the culture.
If you could cook a meal for anyone in the world, who would it be?
Mummy. I don't live with her, unfortunately, I left home.
Junoon in Madison Square Park. Image via Junoon
What, besides creating good food, is your passion?
Filmmaking has been a long time passion. Food has always been the basis of my movies. I just released 'Holy Kitchens', a film series which explores food sharing traditions in a spiritual context. I have almost completed another one on Buddhism which has been narrated by the Dalai Lama. The Islam documentary was just out in America a couple of weeks back in University of Princeton, Yale and some libraries.
Most of the movies are about 30 minutes, because apart from a student's attention span, the more you talk about food, the hungrier you feel.
Which five restaurants do you think are a must visit?
There is one in Surat, it's called Sasuma which serves Gujarati food… I took a few of my chef friends from America, and oh! they won't stop serving you, till you beg them to.
elBulli in Spain was one of the best restaurants in the world, but it shut. elBulli was a Michelin 3-star restaurant and was described as "the most imaginative generator of haute cuisine on the planet".
I love Chef Manjit Singh Gill. I want everyone to visit Bukhara at least once. It's a pride of our nation.
The other two restaurants are in Amritsar; you can hate me for being narcissistic. Amritsari Kulcha makes the perfect kulchas ever. They cook on a low flame for so long, and still manage to keep it crunchy. It's beautiful.
The last restaurant I'm totally in love with is Kesar Da Dhabha, situated in a small street that you have to walk to. We got our restaurant menu templates from there. More than a century old, most of the restaurants have been inspired by it. They actually took Punjabi food and put in on a menu.
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